The Outer Worlds is a strange game to categorize. It plays like a generic first-person shooter, but there’s also the skeleton of a role-playing game buried deep inside. It has some of the typical stat rolls you would expect from an Obsidian game – skills like charisma or intimidation can be used to influence characters, or lock-picking and hacking can be used to open containers or unlock doors. Stats apply to weapons, either projectile or melee, but the system is superficial and does not allow the kind of customization that I would expect from a proper role-playing game. I’m not convinced the stats do much of anything at all, as most of my large jumps in damage came from gear upgrades, and the skills never felt like they had much of an effect.
The Outer Worlds narrative has tongue in cheek elements similar to Borderlands, though not quite as wild. It lacks the charm of a game like Borderlands, largely because it flutters between taking itself seriously as a narrative and injecting absurdities into the story that clash with the kind of world they’re trying to portray. Most of these come in the form a jab at the paper pushing and bureaucratic nature of corporations, which in-game are absurdly hyperbolic representations of corporate authority structures. But after these are injected into the narrative, the rest of the world continues on as though there’s nothing weird happening. The satire is wedged in the middle of the rest of the story in a rather schizophrenic manner.
Side quests are transparent busy work, and few are worth the trouble of jumping through the hoops required to complete them. One had me collect a trio of books that would launch an NPC’s engineering career – something he would have been capable of doing himself except that the world is filled with homicidal goons and aggressive alien species that make any shopping list impossible to complete without heavy weapons. My character was not so much a space mercenary as he was a transgalactic secretary to a non-exclusive clientele, as everyone from the town greeter to the barmaid passed errands onto me like I was an interstellar Uber for busywork. Towns or minor outposts frequently had a greeter that immediately accosted my character on entry with some trivial task or obstacle. These transparent fluff missions are also heaped onto you by your companions, most of whom are some of the most generic and uninteresting characters I’ve seen in an RPG in a long time.
The environments are varied and interesting. Each world has its own unique flavour and is distinctly different from the last. Everything from the flora and fauna to the personalities of the NPCs changes as you jump from backwater minor settlements to a bustling bourgeoisie metropolis.
The Outer Worlds has several questionable design decisions. Obsidian’s implementation of quest tracking is sloppy. You can only track one quest at a time, and I found myself backtracking to areas with quest components that I had missed because the game’s quest indicators only show the active quest. Some of the enemies also have almost no visual indicator to show that you’ve killed them, and coupled with the variety of explosions and particle effects, it can be hard to tell when they’re dead:
I expected better from a company with the RPG pedigree Obsidian has. The shooting mechanics are solid, but the role-playing suffers as a result of this focus. If you’re looking for an RPG game or even just a generic shooter, there are far better candidates than The Outer Worlds.